Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Gothic London

Image not from the Museum
In the thrub of the city, there are quiet, small spaces of calm if you know where to find them. Take Lincoln’s Inn Fields on a Saturday morning when the law is at rest, for example, or the imaginary monk’s cell and parlour in the basement of the Sir John Soane Museum that abuts the park.

It is wasteful, almost profligate to spend the hours of sunshine on a winter’s day indoors in the semi-dark amongst gargoyles, a marble skull, heavy furniture and blood red walls. But with my teenage Goth daughter in tow and delighted by everything here from the architectural ‘specimens’ to the fabulous sculpture packed into every square inch of the house, there was no choice. And more, it was a positive choice to keep from the Arctic cold that arrived with insufficient notice for me to pack properly last weekend.

As usual, I wanted the fires lit, everyone else banished and the place to myself, a good tome from the library and a pot of tea. My needs are fairly simple, no? Barring that, free entry, an exhibition on death and architecture and four of Hogarth’s paintings from the Rake’s Progress kept us more than happy for the morning.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Nous sommes Parisians, but I’m not gawping

It’s been ten days since the terrorist attacks in Paris. A week and a half in which something approaching life has continued, but people have become variously scared, defiant, distrustful.

The present concerns are whether the political response of bombing the hell out of Syria is wise, and resistance to the French government’ s move to constrain personal freedoms. For the French, Liberté is a very serious tenant, even in a state of emergency.

On a daily basis these things concern me much less than my neighbours. Je suis Paris, but I have long since given up on active political engagement as it does no good to my health. I cannot over-fill my mind and heart or they will break completely. That’s why I will not be going to Place de la Republique to look at the growing shrine to the dead. It’s the reason why I do not join the collective mourning.

My only contact with public expressions of grief and outrage was the floral tributes at the school gate next to my apartment building  It was hard to avoid the white flowers, candles and messages from the pupils for their murdered music teacher. And impossible to side-step the girl walking towards me one morning last week, carrying a perfect rose, her expression of sadness not one any child should know.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Four good reasons to go to Birmingham

Southerners are pretty snobby about Brum, so here's a finger to them and four good reasons to pay our second city a visit, even on a grey and drizzly day in November:

1. Anthony Gormley - check out this huge Iron Man stuck just there in the pavement outside the City Art Gallery and Museum, and Town Hall.

2. The Staffordshire Hoard - a cache of over four thousand pieces of Anglo Saxon gold, some with marvellous garnet inlay. It's in the museum in a purpose built gallery. Bling.

3. The Pre-Raphaelites - there are several rooms full of Holman Hunt, Bryne-Jones, Rosetti and Millais, which you have to trip past on your way to the Hoard. Some of these paintings are so famous, you'll find yourself saying something like, 'Oh so that's where this one belongs'.

4. The new New Street station - shopping and travelling under one rather shiny roof. Great for reflections.

Ai Weiwei at the RA

This is not the first time I have been to an Ai Weiwei show, but it may be the last. In a word, disappointing. I get it now, actually I've got it for a long time. The message is wearing thin and this is not art that I have to think very hard about.

Yes, it is important that he continues to show up the Chinese government and its secrecy, duplicity, control, hypocrisy and so on, and yes, it is appalling the way Ai has himself been treated, but I think he has reached the point now where politics has over taken art if it takes an army of people and three studios around the world to create his works. Take for example the steel rods from the earthquake destroyed schools and the number of workers needed to straighten them. Yes, they are nicely arranged and fitted together in a pleasing wave form, but really, is that it?

Such were my feelings as I toured Ai's latest show. Yes, it's good to see the drip vases and marble camera, the jade handcuffs and the enormous cube of tea, but I wanted more. It's a function of the size of the works and the relative lack of space in the RA to do them justice.

Go if you've not seen these in the flesh before, but if you have, beat the long queue and perhaps save those 17 good British pounds for something else. The porcelain crabs though are cute.